First Person

Satellite Communications

… 3 … 2 … 1 … Lift Off!

In mid-February, courtesy of an invite from Inmarsat, Maritime Reporter & Engineering News had an up close and personal vantage point close to SpaceX’s successful launch of Inmarsat’s latest I-6 F2 satellite from launch pad SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

By Greg Trauthwein

Photo courtesy Inmarsat/SpaceX
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While I’ve covered the global maritime industry for more than 30+ years, I’ve always had a personal fascination with flight, rockets and space. Being able to meld personal and professional was afforded to me via in invite from Inmarsat to watch its latest I-6 F2 satellite break the bonds of earth’s atmosphere atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The SpaceX story by now is well-known, and the launch of the Inmarsat satellite on February 17 helped connect space and maritime in another meaningful way: approximately three minutes after launch, the first stage of the rocket – which provides 1.7 million pounds of thrust courtesy of nine Merlin engines – separated after its job was done, landing successfully on SpaceX’s drone booster rocket recovery ship that was sailing approximately 500 km off the Florida coast.

Viewing a rocket launch up close and in person was a ‘bucket list’ item for this author, an item checked off on Friday, February 17, 2023 with SpaceX’s successful launch of Inmarsat’s latest I-6 F2 satellite from launch pad SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Photo courtesy Inmarsat/SpaceX

Enhancing Connectivity @ Sea

In the mid-1990s I was part of another industry event designed to showcase the possibilities of satellite communications: an icebreaking cruise off Finland’s coast in the Gulf of Bothnia, a demonstration by Inmarsat at the time to show the successful transmission and download electronic navigation charts to a ship underway. This was the dawn of electronic charts and satellite communications at sea, and the progress over the past three decades has been, in an understatement, staggering.

Fast-track to 2023 and modern shipowners and ship managers increasingly operate connected fleets, using vessel management systems and seamless comms for everything from real-time weather routing to equipment repair and maintenance to crew connectivity solutions.

SpaceX Drone Ship: A SpaceX autonomous rocket recovery droneship is used for booster rocket recovery at sea. The rocket recovery droneships are modified to include an expanded deck to increase the size of the landing platform, four thruster engines for propulsion and to hold on station, and blast shielding to protect electrical and engine equipment on deck. The droneships are entirely unmanned during landings, with a robot deployed on board to secure the rocket booster to the droneship before the vessel returns to port. Image courtesy SpaceX

Inmarsat is a long-tenured and leader in global, mobile satellite communications, and the latest I-6 F2 satellite – intended to be operations for the next 20+ years – is central to the organization’s investment in the future of connectivity at sea.

The I-6 F2 followed its ‘twin’, I-6 F1, which launched from Japan in late 2021, touted by Inmarsat as “the most sophisticated commercial communications satellites ever, providing a revolutionary upgrade in Inmarsat’s global coverage services for at least the next 15 years.”

Specifically, the new satellites, when fully operational, will add capabilities to Inmarsat’s ORCHESTRA communications network; described by the company as “a multi-dimensional, dynamic mesh network that will redefine connectivity at scale with the highest capacity for mobility worldwide.”

Photo courtesy Inmarsat/SpaceX

Watch the Inmarsat I-6 F2/SpaceX launch Video

Watch here the official Inmarsat I-6 F2/SpaceX launch, including the recovery of the first stage booster rocket onboard the SpaceX drone ship off the coast of Florida.

Video courtesy SpaceX
March 2023